Britain’s ‘Little Ice Age’

It’s hardly surprising in the UK that we are notorious for talking about the weather, for it is nothing if not unpredictable. Take the last 2 weeks – where I live in the south of Scotland we have had temperatures ranging from -5 at lunchtime to +11 at eleven pm at night. Which makes the decision of when to change to winter tyres rather difficult, and which is perhaps the reason that the weather is not just the subject of casual conversation, but also of jokes and of picture postcards – I’m sure you’ve all seen the ‘Summer in the… (fill in your own county name) cards – which is of course just a picture of rain…

Recently though ‘weather’ or rather ‘climate’ (for I’ve been reliably informed by those who know that they are two different things) has become a worldwide topic of hot debate, with Greta Thunberg named yesterday as the Times Magazine person of 2019. Programmes abound of ice melting in the Artic and Antarctic and the potentially catastrophic effects that will follow for us all if it cannot be halted.

But melting ice hasn’t always been a problem – quite the reverse. For over 100 years within the late Tudor, Stuart and Georgian periods Britain was in the grip of what became known as the ‘Little Ice Age’ when winters were harsh and long. There is ample evidence, in writing and in pictures, of frost fairs on the Thames – carnivals on ice, the most famous occurring in the winter of 1683 / 84, when even the seas around southern Britain are said to have frozen for up to 2 miles from shore!

There were temporary booths selling everything from beer to bootlaces, hot food in abundance, entertainments of all kinds and sporting events – bowling matches and horse and coach races, (though quite how the horses managed on the ice I don’t know). Every trade and guild was represented – the city in miniature reproduced on the ice.

The frost fairs spawned souvenirs, which to judge by the advertising copy below, would likely have rivalled the seaside ‘tat’ of our modern era.

‘Here you PRINT your name tho’ cannot write
Cause numbe’d with cold: Tis done with great delight.

And lay it by: That AGES yet to come
May see what THINGS upon the ICE were done.’

‘To the Print-house go,
Where men the art of Printing soon do know,
Where for a Teaster, you may have your name
Printed, hereafter for to show the same’

It is the Thames Frost Fairs that have had all the press, but the ‘Ice Age’ wasn’t confined to the south of England, but to most of the Northern Hemisphere and so in my first Scottish novel I have set a Frost Fair on the Clyde – and what should have been a happy occasion for the Munro family, didn’t go entirely to plan – courtesy of William Cunninghame.

Here’s a wee extract from Turn of the Tide:

December came in hard, heralding a season of frosts that silvered the loch with ice a foot thick, so that Munro fashioned wooden skates for all but Ellie, the blacksmith fitting them with narrow blades. In January, when it was clear that the cold snap would last, frost fairs were held along the upper reaches of the Clyde and it took little persuasion for Munro to fit runners to the cart and take Kate and the two older children.

It was Maggie’s first experience of a winter fair and she hopped up and down on the shore, impatient for Munro to lace her skates. Kate and Munro each took one of her hands and they struck out towards the braziers burning on the ice and bought chestnuts so hot that even with mittens, they had to toss them from hand to hand until they cooled enough to eat. A flesher had set up a spit and was roasting a pig, the fat sparking like a scattering of bawbees. Maggie wrinkled her nose at the smell of mulled wine and roast meat and burning tallow, and wheedled three pennies from Munro to have her name and the date scribed on a card with a drawing of the fair.

Robbie came flying to drag them to see a man who played a whistle and had a monkey who danced and gibbered on the end of a rope. There were tents with ‘fat ladies’ and fortune-tellers and stalls selling simples: aloes, camphor and ginger, punguent salves of egg-white, rose oil and turpentine. One stall-holder brandished a pamphlet hailing tobacco as the cure-all for everything from toothache and bad breath to kidney stones and carbuncles.

Kate dragged Munro away. ‘Don’t even think on it. I have no wish to kiss a chimney, supposing it could do all that is claimed.’

There were entertainers of all kinds: tumblers in rainbow colours, spinning and wheeling like human kaleidoscopes. Jugglers spinning plates on the ends of long poles balanced on their chins. Musicians who scraped and beat and blew, so fine and so fast that those who hadn’t skates hopped and jigged on the ice around them. Best of all, a conjuror: his silver hair corkscrewed around his face, who began his act by plucking a groat from behind Maggie’s ear.

She was entranced: tipped forward onto the toe of her skates, leaning into Kate that she might not lose her balance; as he spun cards into spirals of kings and queens, aces and jokers, hearts and spades and clubs. He made coins appear and disappear from his hands, under pewter tankards, into a tiny, brightly coloured wooden box with a sliding lid. A dove placed in a tall-crowned hat was gone in a puff of smoke, replaced by a multi-coloured streamer yards long. And best of all: the rabbit that hopped from his sleeve. The act was finished, the conjuror bowing and smiling, Munro fishing for a penny for Maggie to drop in the bonnet he shook.

A slow, contemptuous clapping; a voice impossible to mistake. ‘Well, well. Munro . . . and family. This is an unlooked for surprise. Enjoying yourselves? I daresay this is cheap enough entertainment, even for you.’ William’s eyes raked over Kate, lingering on her breast and she tensed, but tilted her chin and returned his stare.

Beside her Munro smouldered, ‘You’re a step from Kilmaurs. Are you likewise straightened, or is it that Glencairn does not countenance the aggravation closer to home?’

‘I play where I choose and tonight I chose here, and might have been the sooner had I anticipated so pleasant company.’

A gust of wind lifted Kate’s hair, whipped her skirt around her legs, and against her will she shivered.

William leaned close. ‘But come, Munro, you do not treat your wife well. A pretty piece deserves to be kept warm . . . I have a horse-blanket that would serve.’

She was rigid with defiance, determined not to rise to his goading. ‘Thank you but no. I am not truly cold, and if I was I have a shawl in the cart I could put to use.’

‘Some mulled wine then? You will not refuse to drink with me?’

‘We would not, but that we have already had our fill and the bairns hope to see the conjuror’s next act.’

‘This fellow? He is scarcely proficient, or not to a discerning audience at least.’

Maggie, who had followed the sense of William’s comment, though not all the words, shot out a foot and caught him on the shin with the blade of her skate. ‘He is clever and magic and . . .’

Kate caught her round the waist, pulled her back, and though she would have dearly liked to kick William herself, reproved her. ‘Maggie! It is not well done. Apologize this instant.’

‘Shan’t.’ Maggie escaped from Kate’s grasp, her eyes fixed on William, hard and bright.

‘Already feisty . . . like mother, like daughter.’ William was rubbing at his leg. Have no fear Kate, I take no account of a child’s pettiness, how ever ill-bred. When she is grown, I shall take an apology then, no doubt the sweeter for the wait.’

Munro thrust Maggie behind him to turn on William, but Kate had beaten him to it, her hand whipping out, the crack as it met his cheek, echoing like a pistol shot. Off-balance he staggered and then Robbie was hammering at him with his fists, Maggie, who had ducked round Munro, kicking furiously at his shins. A small crowd was gathering, the conjuror, with an eye to further profit, offering odds on the bairns. Kate dived for Maggie, Munro for Robbie. William straightened, and then as if suddenly aware of the folk who gawked, that they made of him a laughing stock, ground out, ‘Ill-mannered as well as ill-bred. You would do well Munro to train your children better, or you may live to regret it.’ He spun on his heel and thrust his way through the crowd, daring any to stop him.

The silence lasted only as long as it took for the conjuror to re-start his show for the new audience that the confrontation had drawn. Maggie, no longer fighting Kate, was craning to see, but Munro, recognizing the wisdom of putting as much ground between themselves and William as possible, said, his voice brooking no resistance, ‘Home.’

They found their way to the cart in silence, the children unusually subdued, Munro and Kate, though both occupied with this new danger, neither wishing to air it. On the hill they stopped and turned to take a last look. Maggie, pointing to the moon riding high and full in the sky, whispered,

‘There is a man. I see his face.’

The lights of the lanterns twinkled all along the shore, the flames from the braziers flaring spasmodically, figures like dolls still skating on the ice.

Kate leant back against Munro, risked, ‘If it were not for William, I could have stayed all night.’‘If it were not for William . . .’ it hung between them, the thought of Anna: of what they had lost; the fear for what they still had.

If you have enjoyed this extract the remainder of the story and the two novels that follow it can be found on Amazon on kindle and both online and via UK bookshops in paperbacks (ideal Christmas presents?)

This is part of a series of seasonal blogs – all of which can be enjoyed this month – the dates are below – do visit them all!

Paperback launches…

I’m looking forward to the paperback launches of By Sword and Storm – the first is at Mainstreet Trading Book shop in St Boswells – a shop that has previously won Independent Bookshop of the Year, yet is situated in a wee village near to me. It is chock full of books and runs loads of events. My launch is classed as a private party – but they set it up, in their events space – the upper part of the barn labelled ‘HOME’ on the drawing – provide table / cloths and glasses for the nibbles and drinks, a stage etc with microphone and lots of chairs and also sell the books. My ambition is to get a launch officially up on their blackboard of events one day… Mainstreet Trading MapI’m very grateful for their willingness to host and to display  invites at their till for folk to pick up. Here’s the current invite. Mainstreet Invite Oct 3rd 2018 By S+SAnd I’m also grateful to historian John Wood, who will host the event – this will be the third he has hosted for me and he still remains willing!

On the 4th October I’ll be doing it all again at Blackwells Bookshop in Edinburgh – for those for whom getting to the Borders is a step too far…  Blackwells Edinburgh

They have a lovely event space upstairs and generously allow me into their staff kitchen to prepare the nibbles. I’m sad that this will be the last time that Ann Landmann will be on hand to make sure it all goes right, as she has moved to the publisher Birlinn, but very pleased that she is coming back for this launch.   David Bishop (Head of the Creative Writing MA at Napier University) has kindly agreed to host the launch – he’s reading the book just now – here’s hoping he’s enjoying it!

For anyone reading this who is within shooting distance of Edinburgh, the event is FREE but ticketed via  Eventbrite (for the sake of the bookshop re numbers to expect).

I would love to see anyone who is free to come to either of these events – the more the merrier. (It would be helpful to me for catering to have an idea of numbers also, so do please feel free to message me here or on Fb or text.)

And if you can’t come and / or are an ebook fan please note that the ebook (published by Corazon) has a different cover – a ship instead of a sword – you can find it on  Amazon  

And Monday morning I hope to get my head down on Katharina: Fortitude – the follow-up to  Katharina: Deliverance – which has just finished runner-up in the Historical Novel Society New Novel Award 2018 – I’m very pleased.

Munro meets the Poldarks.

Now here’s a thing – every writer has authors who have inspired them, whose work they admire and whom they would like to be compared to.

For me, one of those authors is Winston Graham, and in particular, the Poldark novels, especially the earlier ones.  (Another is Daphne du Maurier, but that’s another story, for another day.)

In fact, before I began to write my first Scottish novel, I dissected Graham’s first – Ross Poldark, analysing it in terms of, for example, structure, the interweaving of plotlines, the balance between dialogue, narration and description, and the methods used to convey the period.  In Turn of the Tide I didn’t set out to mimic Ross Poldark, but rather to apply the principles that I’d drawn from it.

So, in a sense, I’ve always though of Graham as a mentor. Which is why I was delighted when by chance I looked on Amazon one day and found Turn of the Tide sitting just below Demelza in the Amazon rankings. And thus began a wee contest with myself (some might say obsession!) – to try to collect screenshots with all of the Poldark novels.

And here they are – it took several weeks and countless quick forays into the Amazon lists, on both the UK site and the Australian one, but finally I got them all. They aren’t in the order I collected them, but in the order of the Poldark books.

Turn of the Tide + Ross Poldark 3 UKTurn of the Tide + Demelza Aug 2017 UKTOT and Jeremy Poldark Aug 2107

I wanted to ‘capture’ the books in pairs, but in the case of Warleggan that wasn’t possible and I had to settle in the end for a group of four. (I’m sure someone really technical could have cut out a diagonal, or blanked out the others, but that isn’t me – sadly.)


And as you can see I haven’t mastered the art of equalising the size of images either, but hey – I have them all – and that (ridiculous as it may seem) gives me a wee frisson of pleasure. It was interesting to see the different covers that had been produced over the recent past, my favourites are definitely the ones with some kind of paper in the background and a central image. And the idea of a distinct branding for a series is one I shall remember. I’m not sure about the image of Ross in the bottom corner, though. (Sorry Aidan Turner!)


Turn of the Tide + Four Swans Aug 2017 UKToT (#21) + Angry Tide Aug 20 AUTot + The stranger From the Sea Aug 2017Some of the titles I could have ‘captured’ multiple times, others remained elusive. The final one – which happened to be The Miller’s Dance – was frustratingly tricky – for days, as it went up, Turn of the Tide went down, and vice versa and as the maximum distance between them allowing me to capture a screen shot was one row either way, there couldn’t be more than 4 places between them. However, I got it in the end and as you can see from the numbers, came very close to not getting it at all.

Tot + Miller's Dance AU 11:09:17Each time I look at them it reminds of the way an individual story (or stories) take centre stage in the different books, but there remains a cohesion that runs through them all.Turn of the Tide + The Loving Cup (2) (UK) Aug 2017Interesting, too, for me, to see how the series develops, particularly over the lengthy time span and the move from a focus on Ross and Demelza themselves, to their children. And as a result how it is Demelza who increasingly becomes the more important character in the marriage partnership, through her empathy and greater understanding of their struggles.
Tot and Twisted Sword Aug 2017
Tot + Bella Poldark BB (AU)2017







As an example of how to develop a saga it continues to impress me and I couldn’t help be encouraged when someone likened the Munro saga to a Scottish Poldark – that can’t be bad. Though whether I could sustain their story for 12 books I’m not sure. Time will tell…

A first for me – a feature in a German newspaper

Torgau paperYesterday a link dropped onto my FB author page which, once I’d realised it was a link (several hours and someone’s comment later) took me straight to an article in a German newspaper, featuring the research visit I’d made to Torgau in Saxony just over a year ago. I was travelling in the footsteps of Katharina von Bora, the escaped nun who became Martin Luther’s wife, in order to paint an authentic background to my novel Katharina: Deliverance. Although I can’t read German, and have to rely on the less than idiomatic FB translation, it seems a lovely article and I’m chuffed to bits.

Yesterday I also discovered, in the spam folder of my email, that Torgau Information Centre had written to me two weeks ago, wanting a photograph to go with the article, but  by the time I found it the piece was written and published. Moral of the story – check your spam folder more than once a month! I am hoping that they might be able to send me a scanned copy of the article that I can print out and keep – to join my wee archive of newspaper coverage that I’ve had over the last few years. For those of you who can read German here’s the link

For those who can’t,  google translate gives the gist!

So my thanks to Anja, Ursula and Katrin of Torgau Tourist Information Centre and to Sebastian who wrote the article.


Editing – Day 1.

Editing of Turn of the Tide was a lengthy and rather ad hoc process. Having finished a first draft of its sequel yesterday I’m excited about starting on the editing process, which this time I’ve planned.

So today my plan was to skim through the entire manuscript – at just over 130,000 words a fairly big task – noting every place where I typed in red, indicating that there was something I wanted to check. I was so chuffed to manage that and now have a list to start working on and as I LOVE research tomorrow should be FUN.

Red Letter Day!

Yesterday I finished a first draft of the sequel to Turn of the Tide So today is a red letter day – when I begin the editing process. And I’m quite excited…

I’m also terrified that a re-read will throw up so much that needs to be altered that it’ll take another 2 1/2 years to do it!!

But actually I’m hoping that having learnt from the process with Book 1 that I’ll find the editing much quicker this time. (Hoping…)

I’m already setting down the various edits I want to do – I prefer to focus on particular aspects rather than attempt a cover-all edit. Some of which are: Story arc / balance between action and pause for breath / character development and of course grammar, punctuation and so on – NOT my forte – I tend to sprinkle commas like sugar.

And I do have one major problem – I don’t yet have a title…

Next step is to write that dreaded synopsis, perhaps a title will emerge from that process.

Where’s My Plaid? – Lovely new review for Turn of the Tide

Sometimes you get one of those reviews that really lifts your spirits and you know that what you’ve written has given a lot of enjoyment to a reader – this was one of those reviews.

4.0 out of 5 stars Where’s My Plaid!, March 9, 2015

By The Just-About-Average Ms. M (North Florida) – See all my reviews
This review is from: Turn of the Tide (Kindle Edition)

‘ The plot moves at a good, steady clip for those readers who prefer to be jostled along, but it also pauses from time to time to allow the setting to take a bow, or the weather, or the sometimes haunted—and haunting—ruminations of Munro, his wife, and a number of other characters. The slower parts are well-crafted, the descriptions those of someone who has been there, seen it all, and doubtless has several tee shirts to prove it. When the action escalates, which it often does, take a deep breath because you will feel the rush. Once you sort out who is who, and feel pretty certain you know not only how this story will progress but also how it will end, prepare to be embarrassed. Prepare to be amazed, rather, because you won’t see it coming.’

The full review can be seen here.